Of, by and for the people

By Pat Freibert

Recently telecast GOP presidential “debates” make one wonder about the definition of the word. In true debates, all sides are presented the same questions with the same opportunity to respond. That is not what happened.

Some candidates were given barely any opportunity to comment unless, on the candidates’ own initiative, he/she interrupted the commentators. This system, totally controlled by national media personalities, has the media acting as participants in the debate rather than as reporters of the events.

Topic selections and which candidates are asked to respond are determined by the media. This control-style system of debate focuses too heavily on viewpoints of media participants, rather than first-person candidate responses. Very often, the media-selected issues do not reflect what is important to American voters. Network personalities often focus on topics for their entertainment value rather than how they demonstrate qualifications for the office.

Voters ultimately decide. But they make decisions based on information available to them from national media. To make informed decisions, voters need coverage of candidates’ positions and not media viewpoints masquerading as news.

Notable exceptions to such media-controlled and managed presentations of debates do exist. For example, Kentucky’s KET network does a far more masterful job producing political debates with results that are more fair and informative. KET does so without irrelevant topics or partisan presentations, and it remains the crown jewel of all Kentucky agencies.

Another example of straightforward presentation of news, political and otherwise, is CNN news anchor Pamela Brown. Her strength is competent and professional news reporting. Former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. has reason to be proud of his daughter, whose mother is former Kentucky First Lady Phyllis George.

While the presidential election is more than a year away, we have an upcoming election for state offices this November. It is an opportunity to monitor local and state news coverage of critical issues and presentation of the candidates for governor and other constitutional offices. There is no paucity of critical issues, and local media and news organizations generally do a commendable job of presenting candidates’ positions on salient issues.

The Sept. 16 issue of the Lexington Herald-Leader carried a front-page story of one of those important issues: problems with Kentucky’s retirement system for the commonwealth’s retired state employees and teachers. The story is worthy of close voter attention, as the Herald-Leader and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting reveal that the KRS’ “annual investment expenses” are running 75 percent higher than reported in previous years. … And a consultant’s report found that KRS investment costs were 9.2 percent higher than the benchmark of similarly sized public pension plans in 2014.”

Whatever the reason for this negative performance, whether it is incompetence, unidentified market issues, new reporting methodology, cronyism, etc., this is an urgent issue for Kentucky. Political officeholders and pension plan trustees must be held accountable.

Another high-profile state issue involves allegations of questionable spending by the Bluegrass Area Development District, based on Kentucky State Auditor’s examination of irregular spending. At issue are employee bonuses, conflicts of interest, travel expenses for people not employed by BADD, credit card charges and questionable rent arrangements.

As you vote this November, ask who was responsible for this taxpayer money from 2010-2013, the period investigated. So far, only the BADD executive director has been replaced. Many voting board members remain comfortably in place.

The public can improve the quality of government by improving the quality of our citizenship. We have a civic responsibility to be involved in our government. Elected officials are simply our trustees.

Kentucky’s most distinguished statesman, Henry Clay, said in 1829: “Government is a trust, and the officers of government are the trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”

Pat Freibert is a former Kentucky state representative from Lexington. 

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